Andrew Yang launches new nonprofit and ponders a presidential endorsement

Holly Bailey, The Washington Post

Andrew Yang greets supporters at the New Hampshire Democratic Party state convention in Manchester, N.H. (Gretchen Ertl/Reuters)

Andrew Yang, the businessman and political novice whose long-shot bid for the Democratic presidential nomination became one of the fairy-tale stories of the 2020 campaign, is launching a group aimed at keeping his ideas alive.

Humanity Forward, the name inspired by Yang’s “Humanity First” campaign slogan, will champion the same issues that transformed him from a total unknown into a politically potent phenomenon including his push for a $1,000-a-month universal basic income for all Americans.

The group, which will be registered as a 501(c) (4) nonprofit, announced a pledge to distribute $500,000 in the form of $1,000 a month checks to residents of a to-be-determined city in New York state, funded by private donations.

“I feel like we are going to be able to actually demonstrate the power of our ideas in a way that’s really going to be compelling,” Yang said in an interview.

Perhaps the group’s most ambitious goal is to try to keep Yang’s supporters politically engaged. The son of Taiwanese immigrants who launched a nonprofit to help fund start-ups in economically challenged cities, Yang’s unorthodox candidacy and whimsical style of campaigning attracted a fiercely loyal army of supporters.

By the end of his campaign, Yang had amassed 1.3 million Twitter followers and an email list of more than 850,000 people. Over 400,000 people contributed roughly $38 million to his campaign — over half of it contributions of $200 or less.

That support from the Yang Gang, as his movement came to be known, helped him outlast many better-known candidates, including several senators and current and former governors. The issues Yang raised, including the impact of self-driving trucks and the future of human jobs amid the growing use of automation, became fodder on the debate stage among other candidates.

Yang ultimately dropped out after disappointing results in Iowa and New Hampshire. But he hopes to leverage the base of support he built as he considers his own political future and an endorsement.

But first Yang has to decide which candidate he will support. Since exiting the race last month, he has held discussions with all of the remaining contenders in the race, including former vice president Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). In an interview, he said he had talked to various candidates about roles he might play in potential administrations, including Cabinet posts, but remained undecided.

“I’ve been open about the fact if someone were to embrace universal basic income that would help a great deal,” Yang said. But though there had been “positive” conversations, he was still uncommitted.

A complicating factor, Yang said, is that he had become personally close and liked all of his former Democratic rivals. Though he voted for Sanders in 2016 and still admires him, he has publicly praised Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who suspended her campaign Thursday, and said he considers Biden “a friend” after many months of private conversations that began last summer as they shared debate stages and attended candidate forums together.

“I think the world of Joe,” he said.

Yang praised Biden as someone who had publicly talked about many of the issues he had raised in his own campaign years before he entered the race — including how technology was transforming the workplace and setting up a “fourth industrial revolution” that could wipe out jobs and further endanger the middle class and working poor.

“He’s very serious about it,” Yang said.

Though Yang has speculated many of his supporters might lean toward Sanders, he said he believed Biden could win over the Yang Gang.

“Joe is a really great patriot of public service. He wants to do right by the country and by our families, and I think many people in the Yang Gang would be very excited to support him,” he said. “Now, I will say that he needs help with young people, and a lot of the Yang Gang is young.”

At the same time, Yang is contemplating his own political path and getting used to being a more public figure, recognized while riding his bike around New York City, where he lives. Earlier this week, he made headlines when he told a BuzzFeed reporter during an Acela train ride he was “looking at” running for New York City mayor.

As a newcomer to politics, Yang spent the early months of his campaign appearing on prominent podcasts, including Freakanomics and the Joe Rogan experience.

He now plans to launch his own long-form podcast, interviewing celebrities, politicians and innovators with a guest list that will probably include friends like Elon Musk and comedian Dave Chappelle, who endorsed his campaign.

The group also plans to organize a “Future of Work” summit in Washington later this year, which Yang hopes will not only generate ideas, but also engage his supporters in the political process.

“We have a lot of big problems, and I’m excited to help solve them,” he said.

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